The magic number: 3

SWAT: Lane Carico goes up for a serve in a match earlier this season. STEVE ROOT // Hurricane Staff

Ask any player on the University of Miami volleyball team (24-5, 12-5) and they will tell you they are just taking it one match at a time.

Ask me, the beat writer, and I am looking ahead, because if the Canes win their final three games, they will win the ACC title and clinch an automatic spot in NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.

For a team that was predicted to finish ninth in the ACC preseason polls, this is quite the accomplishment.

The ACC is not considered a premier women’s volleyball conference. The dominant teams play on the West Coast, and the ACC will be fortunate to have more than one representative in the field of 64. A mindboggling eight teams in the top 25 coaches poll hail from the state of California.

Over the course of this season, though, if there is anything that we have learned from this team, it is that anything is possible.

As the Hurricanes approach this crucial stretch in the season, let’s break down their final three games, all of which are on the road.

Miami begins its quest on Thursday on Tobacco Road against UNC (19-9, 13-4) at 7 p.m. Miami defeated North Carolina in four sets last month. The Canes dropped the first set but were able to battle back from adversity and prevail. Since that match, the Tar Heels are sporting an eight-game win streak and are the hottest team in the ACC. They are currently in sole possession of first place and also determine their own fate. UNC is the best defensive team in the ACC, leading the league in digs as a unit.

Friday, the Orange and Green travel to NC State (9-23, 3-14) to take on the Wolfpack at 7 p.m. The Hurricanes are 9-0 against the Wolfpack all-time. NC State is the third worst team in the ACC, but the game could be a trap if UM does not remain focused. NC State ranks last in the ACC in assists, kills and service aces.

Next Wednesday the Canes round out their schedule, facing in-state rival Florida State (19-8, 11-6) in Tallahassee. The last time these two teams played was back in September when Miami edged out the Seminoles in four sets. Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Lici McGee had a career high 11 blocks in that match.

“Every match is going to be incredibly difficult,” head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “We have a lot of respect for all of these programs. Right now complete, total focus is on UNC. They are an incredible defensive team. We are going to have to play great volleyball if we want to win.”